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Benefits of Virtualization

Six ways virtualization can benefit your small business

Just by its mere name, virtualization conjures up images of expensive, complicated technologies that for the most part only the largest companies can grasp, when in fact there are many benefits that virtualization can bring to small businesses, two being IT efficiency and cost savings.  The likes of VMware Workstation and Oracle's VirtualBox both have brought this technology well within the budgets of small businesses.

The following suggestions will help you gain the most benefit of virtualization within your small business:

Replace unsupported or outdated machines
Sadly we see it happen only too often:  Developers of a particular niche software that you have been enjoying the use of suddenly go out of business, or there is no longer any support available for it.  The original installation files are unobtainable and you (and your software) are left hanging out to dry.

You have options when this happens.  You could choose to continue to run your application and hope for the best, or you could spend valuable funds on purchasing a replacement app.  Better still you could elect to virtualize the entire PC.  With the likes of the free VMware vCenter Converter software you can manage to do this quite easily.  In this way your unsupported software can continue to be used on any laptop or desktop that has adequate RAM and an efficient processer, except now it will be in a virtualized environment.

Virtualize an entire PC using VMware vCenter Converter software

It is only too apparent that running software that is no longer supported is not the most desirable option when you consider security.  It is advisable to ensure that virtual machines (VMs) that contain these apps are always protected by a firewall.

Backup your system
With virtualization, creating a system backup is as simple as creating a "snapshot" of a server into a virtual machine.  This form of backup can be particularly beneficial to your business because it allows you to restore your normal operations quickly and efficiently should you be the victim of a catastrophe, such as a hardware failure.  A virtual machine copy should not be considered a substitute for daily backups of your data being able to access a recent "snapshot" image of your business can greatly minimize downtime, as well as allow you some breathing room to configure replacement physical hardware.  Bear in mind that daily backups of your data will still be required in order to effect a full server restoration.

Provide in-house services
If you have been considering creating a Wiki for in-house use or testing deployment of a Jabber IM within your business' Intranet, virtualization can make this a considerably easier task, and has the added advantage of not clogging up current machines or requiring the purchase of new hardware.  Once the initial trial or deployment has proven successful it is an easy task to transfer the virtual machine onto a virtual server dedicated for that purpose, or expanded quickly with a few simple tweaks of the VM parameters the likes of CPU and RAM allocation.

Support mobility
With the advent of mobile devices business and work tasks can be carried out from virtually any location, but there are times when it is necessary for an employee to have access to a PC-only app while out on the road, or to be able to access websites that are not easily viewable on a small, mobile device.  Being able to connect to workstations located in their offices in a situation as outlined above has been made possible by the likes of Remote Desktop Protocol-clients designed for Android, iOS and Windows RT.

One way to streamline the system for employees requiring access to their desktops from an external location is to set up a virtual machine to serve as the Remote Desktop Protocol host.  It is prudent to ensure that such a VM is configured in such a way that remote users only have access to the services they require, and segregating the work machines in this way provides extra security.

Enhance security
Your business data can be at grave risk of cyber attacks, given the prevalence of such attacks that target Web browsers.  Limiting Web browsing to a virtual environment that is unable to access any sensitive files is an inexpensive solution to combating such attacks.  If by some chance a hacker is able to gain access via a Web browser, any modifications to system files as a result of malware can be quickly erased by undertaking a quick restart provided the virtual machine was booted up in read-only mode.

Distribution of apps without installation
Apps are also capable of being distributed and packaged within a virtual machine image.  This is an effective method of having your preferred apps with you at all times on a flash drive, whether you are at home or work, and carries an added advantage of ensuring your software demo cannot fail due to missing code libraries and / or drivers.  This is also a highly effective way of running several instances of a particular application the likes of Skype or Yahoo Messenger, with individual instances mapped to individual accounts.

More Stories By Jason Williams

Jason Williams is a former Microsoft employee and an expert on virtualization, in particular the Hyper-V platform. You can read more of his content at HyperVBlog.com.

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